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Immigration policy in Indiana and its effect on Indy’s Hispanic community

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Crystal Estrada, a travel nurse practitioner and member of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, has journeyed from Chicago to Indianapolis for work and personal endeavors for more than a decade. Estrada shared some of her experiences with Hispanic culture while comparing the two locales amidst Hispanic Heritage Month.

“Indy doesn’t feel as welcoming for Hispanics in comparison to Chicago,” Estrada said. “I don’t know what the city needs initially, but it could be more inclusive. I just don’t feel it. Some political changes have to be made.”

The marketing coordinator for the Immigrant Welcome Center – a nonprofit community organization devoted to empowering Indianapolis’ immigrant population by connecting them to the individuals, businesses and resources essential for success in the U.S – Mistie Rivas echoed Estrada’s statement when referencing Indiana’s stance on DACA
“Indiana is one of the few states in the nation that does not allow for in-state tuition for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients,” Rivas said.

“This policy significantly hinders the ability of more than 8,940 DACA recipients who live in Indiana to obtain higher education. The state does not permit undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license, impacting their safety and ability to commute to and from work, school or other destinations,” Rivas said. “Both these policies create obstacles for immigrants to prosper in the communities they live and work in.”

Immigration is an often debated and contentious issue across the U.S., and Indiana is no anomaly. With a diverse and growing population of immigrants, Indiana has policies that may support or hinder their integration into society.

Sept. 11-17 was “Welcoming Week” in Indianapolis, a time during Hispanic Heritage Month designed to bring organizations and neighbors of all ethnicities together to build connections and establish the importance of welcoming and inclusive establishments in achieving a sense of joint prosperity.

“The Immigrant Welcome Center just wrapped up Welcoming Week with a book signing and author talk by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Hector Tobar at the IndyFringe Theater in partnership with Tomorrow Bookstore,” Rivas said.

In addition to helpful initiatives like “Welcoming Week,” Indiana also maintains several policies that support immigrants in the naturalization process. One such policy is the Indiana English Language Proficiency Assessment (ELPA), which allows non-native English speakers to cultivate the language skills they need to succeed in school and the workforce.

Indiana’s Newcomer Program also provides support and resources to immigrants and refugees who are new to the state. This program, backed by the Indiana Department of Education, helps these individuals navigate the complex process of settling in a new country and helps them with literacy, mathematical concepts and even employment.
According to the program’s description, “Newcomer programs offer specialized services and classes designed to meet the academic and transitional needs of newly-arrived immigrants, including acclimation to U.S. schools and development of foundational skills in English.”

However, there are also policies in Indiana capable of hindering immigrants’ integration and success. One such policy is the state’s immigration enforcement law , which allows the authority to investigate the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest. Per Indiana Code §5-2-18.2-7, “Every law enforcement agency shall provide each law enforcement officer with a written notice that the law enforcement officer has a duty to cooperate with state and federal agencies and officials on matters pertaining to enforcement of state and federal laws governing immigration.”

Barriers to healthcare for immigrants in Indiana also remain. Per federal law, many immigrants are not eligible for Medicaid or other government-funded healthcare programs, which can make it difficult for them to access the care they need.

Rivas vows the Immigrant Welcome Center is putting their best foot forward to make a change in Indiana for the benefit of every immigrant.

“We are highlighting the economic impact of Hispanic neighbors, as well as shining a light on their cultural contributions,” Rivas said. “We are working alongside the Mayor’s Office of International and Latino Affairs to host the International Leadership Academy—to increase civic engagement among all immigrants.”

Contact multi-media staff writer Noral Parham III at 317-762-7846 or via e-mail at noralp@indyrecorder.com. Follow him on Twitter @NoralParham. For more stories similar to Indiana’s immigration policy and Hispanic Heritage Month, click here.

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